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Toki, Tara, and To – When to say When

When to say When – Using Toki, Tara, and To

Toki Tara and to image

10 MINUTE LESSON RULES: 1. read each example outloud several times. 2. Pay close attention to the notes.

This lesson will look at how to say ‘when‘ in Japanese. In English ‘when‘ can mean a few things. Consider these examples:

  • When do you go to bed? (when = what time?)
  • Tell me when you finish. (when = at that time)
  • When suddenly… (when = and then)
  • When I go to the market… (when = whenever, the time)
  • When I was young… (when = that time)

Here we will look at 3 words that convey these meanings in Japanese – とき toki たら tara to


A Prelude…

  • toki by itself means time, but here it is used in another way


始めましょう! Let’s begin…



とき toki – at the time when…

EXAMPLES: Please repeat several times:


(gakusei) use の+とき
[Looking at a photo] 私は学生のときにはとても若かったね。
watashi wa gakusei no toki ni wa totemo wakakatta ne.
[looking at a photo] When I was a student, I was very young, wasn’t I?
simple past た+とき
furorida ni itta toki ni kore wo kaimashita.
When I went to Florida, I bought this.
furorida ni iku toki wa omiyage wo kaimasu.
When I go to Florida, I will buy souvenirs.
neru toki itsumo futon de nemasu.
When I sleep, I always sleep on a futon.



NOTE: You only use no with nouns

– Keep this in mind and move on!

たら tara – if, when, after


EXAMPLES: Please repeat several times:


NON-PAST ゴジラが来たら逃げろ!
gojira ga kitara nigero!
When/if Godzilla comes, RUN AWAY!
NON-PAST 10時になったらねます。
juu ji ni nattara nemasu.
When it becomes 10, I will sleep. (At ten I will sleep.)
PAST 海岸に行ったら、突然ゴジラが来ました!
kaigan ni ittara, totsuzen gojira ga kimashita!
When I went to the beach, suddenly Godzilla came!



NOTE: たら tara can mean both if (don’t know if it will occur) and when (expecting it to occur but don’t know when)

NOTE: FORM: Stick ra to the simple past of a verb: 食べた(ら)tabeta (ra) 終わった(ら)owatta (ra) This form is the same for both future and past tenses! It is only by the second verb that we know if it is past or future.

NOTE: Using たら tara in the past tense always indicates a chance happening and not something planned or expected. ex. “When I went to school, I happened to meet the teacher.

– Keep this in mind and move on!

Don’t worry TOO much about memorizing long complicated lists and rules. Just try to get a FEEL for how the sentences work.

Take a breather… You are almost there!



to – if, when

EXAMPLES: Please repeat several times:


NON-PAST ゴジラが来ると皆さん逃げます。
gojira ga kuru to minasan nigemasu.
When Godzilla comes, everyone RUNS AWAY!
NON-PAST テレビを見ると眠くなります。
terebi wo miru to nemuku narimasu.
When I watch TV, I become sleepy.
PAST 日本に来ると日本の文化を好きになりました。
nihon ni kuru to nihon no bunka wo suki ni narimashita.
When I came to Japan, I became interested in Japanese culture.



NOTE: to is only used with non-past verbs. (ex. X = mita to ; O = miru to) To make the past simply change the form of the second verb.

NOTE: to has many uses in Japanese – and, with, quotation marker…

NOTE: Think of to as being a plus (+) and equal sign (=) because what comes before to causes what comes after


とき toki

[nouns] + no + toki
[past tense verb] +
[non-past tense verb] +
toki – Is connected to the PAST FORM for past clauses and NON-PAST FORM for non-past clauses

たら tara

[past tense verb] + tara – ALWAYS connected to the PAST FORM


[non-past tense verb] + to – ALWAYS connected to NON-PAST FORM

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